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How to Look for and Evaluate Preschools


How to Look for and Evaluate Preschools

Laura Standefer, Senior Preschool Investigator

October 14, 2019

Recently, I had to make the difficult decision to pull my son out of his beloved preschool. There was nothing wrong with the school itself, the days and times available for the pre-kindergarten program just didn’t work for our family. We spent the entire summer touring schools and programs, and I spent many sleepless nights wondering if we would make the right choice. We finally made a decision after weighing the pros and cons of each school and doing as much research as possible. If you are in the process of looking for and evaluating preschools, here are some tips and resources to help you out.

Looking for a Preschool

Nowadays, we have substantial access to word-of-mouth recommendations due to the many outlets of communication we have with other parents. We now have access to online reviews and discussion boards on social media. However, an online search can be incredibly overwhelming and relying discussion boards may cause you to miss out on a school that could really work for you and your family. HappiFamli’s Preschool and Childcare Guide is an excellent resource that includes an extensive list of schools in the Austin area and it can help you find exactly what you’re looking for. 

Once you see the amount of options for preschool and childcare options available in the guide, you may want to determine what type of school is best for your child based on your priorities for your children. HappiFamli’s guide lists and describes the most popular types of schools, including:

– Montessori schools, which are based on the idea that children learn individually at their own pace and teachers are there for guidance. They also emphasize the importance of children being responsible for and taking care of their own belongings.

– Language Immersion schools, where most of the class is taught in a particular language in order to help the students begin to understand the language and encourage them to speak it on their own. 

– Play-Based schools, which is based on the belief that most of children’s learning comes from free play and encourages the students to participate in age appropriate activities.

Play is the most essential tool for children to have in their early childhood development.

Evaluating a Preschool

When I was obtaining my master’s degree in Family and Child Development, we used the NAEYC as a primary source to obtain the most up-to-date philosophies and research information to apply to our future experiences in early childhood education. You can visit the NAEYC website to learn about all of their expectations for early childhood programs, but a few of them include:

 – Promoting a healthy and safe learning environment

– Using diverse and developmentally appropriate teaching approaches  

– Employing educationally qualified, knowledgeable, and committed professionals 

– Implementing strong policies to encourage high quality experiences for staff, students, and parents

HappiFamli’s guide also provides a list of things you should take into consideration when touring schools and childcare programs. For example:

-Do the children have various types of experiences throughout the day?

-Is there a strong connection between home and school?

-Will they be monitoring the child’s progress and adjusting teaching methods on an individualized basis?

These are questions that can be asked before making a decision in order to make the best choice when you are finally ready to enroll.

Many choices will be narrowed down by cost, hours of operation, and location, but the amount of things to consider when choosing a school may still seem overwhelming. I know that I felt an immense amount of stress and pressure when it was time to finally make a decision on my son’s pre-k program. But what helped relieve some of my anxiety was when I remembered the number one thing I took away from the years I spent in my graduate program: Play is the most essential tool for children to have in their early childhood development. This doesn’t mean that the other areas of assessment are not important (obviously, please make sure that the program is clean and safe). However, with the wide variety of philosophies and learning styles available, I personally believe it is most important to find a program that recognizes that each child is an individual and allows for that child to learn by doing what children are meant to do: play! 

School and Child Care Philosophy Overview


School and Child Care Philosophy Overview

HappiFamli, Senior School and Child Care Correspondents

October 4, 2019

Once you see the amount of options for preschool and childcare options available, you may want to determine what type of school is best for your child based on your priorities for your children.  Below is a high-level overview of the types of educational philosophies included.

  • Cooperative:
    • Parents who know their own children’s needs can best guide a preschool toward excellence and integrate home and preschool life through significant, required parent participation in the preschool
    • Can follow any preschool philosophy or a combination
  • Emergent:
    • This philosophy prioritizes active participation, relationship building, flexible and adaptable methods, inquiry, and play-based learning. 
    • Curriculum is child-initiated, collaborative and responsive to the children’s needs.
  • International:
    • Most are dual-language programs.
    • Focus on development of critical thinking skills.
    • Can follow any preschool philosophy or a combination
  • Language Immersion:
    • All or most of classes are conducted entirely in the new language.  
    • Can follow any preschool philosophy or a combination
  • Montessori
    • Based on underlying idea that children are individual learners with teachers as guides.
    • Fosters personal responsibility by encouraging children to take care of their own personal needs & belongings.
    • It stresses the importance of adapting the child’s learning environment to his or her developmental level, and of the role of physical activity in absorbing academic concepts & practical skills
  • Reggio Emilia
    • Based on several principles:
      • Children must have some control over the direction of their learning
      • Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing 
      • Children have endless ways & opportunities to express themselves
    • Emergent curriculum content and activities developed collaboratively by teachers and children 
    • Children expected to learn through mistakes as they are considered equal learners
    • Emphasizes creativity & artistic representation
  • Waldorf
    • In the Waldorf method, learning is interdisciplinary, integrates practical, artistic, and intellectual elements, and is coordinated with “natural rhythms of everyday life.” 
    • Goal of system is to develop the child emotionally and physically as well as intellectually
    • Emphasizes creative learning
  • Play-Based:
    • Primary principle is to promote participation in age-appropriate activities 
    • Children can develop full complement of cognitive, social, emotional & physical skills best when most of the day involves free play with material that can be used individually or by small groups.

Demystifying the DFPS Child Care Inspection Reports


Demystifying the DFPS Child Care Inspection Reports

Rebecca Cole, Cofounder, Mom

December 11, 2018

The Austin American-Statesman is in the midst of publishing a yearlong investigation called Unwatched. It’s a compelling and chilling look at day care facilities in Texas. For parents who are considering a day care facility or for parents who currently have children in one, the American-Statesman’s series is an important piece of information that should be considered. It got me to thinking about all the things parents can and should use to make a decision about where to park their precious cargo every day.  I’m talking about your kids of course.


Whether you’re buying a car or pajamas on Amazon, consumer reviews play a part of the decision making for many. The same goes for child care. There are unofficial sources (like parent reviews) and official sources. The Texas DFPS produces licensing reports every year when they inspect a center (they may do more often than once per year, but that is the minimum requirement).

The reports can read like a government report (hard to access and confusing to understand… shocker), so we wanted to demystify those inspection reports and talk to you about what you should be looking for in the report.   

STEP 2: Type in the child care center or preschools name you are wanting to look up where it says ‘Operation Name’.  You can leave everything else blank.

STEP 3:  When the Child Care Search Results come back, click on the correct center that shows under  the table heading ‘Operation/Caregiver Name’.

STEP 4: Scroll to the bottom of the text that comes up.  Go down past ‘Operation Details’ to where it says ‘Two Year Inspection Summary’. Now we’re finally where we need to be.  Now that wasn’t hard was it?! 

What you want to look at in this section is how many inspections were done,
how many standards were examined, and how many deficiencies were found.  

STEP 5:  DFPS gives a nice summary table of the deficiencies that were found too, so you can see how serious they were. 

STEP 6: If you click on each individual category (High, Medium-High, etc.) you can see more specifics on each item. In this example if I clicked on ‘High’ it would bring up another table that shows what those two high deficiencies were.

STEP 7:  If you then click within the ‘Narrative’ column a pop-up box will come up that shows you more details.  

STEP 8:  Note patterns or severe incidents that concern you.  With all of the things that licensing examines during their inspections, it is extremely rare that you will have a school with zero deficiencies.  So it is not the number of deficiencies that concern me so much as the type.

When I see a center that has a pattern of paperwork not being on file or background checks not being completed on time, it makes me wonder how well-managed that center is. 

I also look for extreme incidences where I child is left unattended or an accident report wasn’t filed and a parent reported something.    

When these types of things happen, it is best to talk to the director and ask about these things. Tell them your concerns and see if they have good answers for you.  A good director will be able to address your questions without getting defensive and state exactly what they have put in place to ensure they don’t have repeat deficiencies in these areas.

I hope that helps give you a bit of direction on what to look for in a report.  Please let me know what questions you have, as I would be happy to discuss things further. Leave a comment below.

Cheers, Rebecca

Nanny vs Day Care


Nanny vs Day Care

Rebecca Cole, Cofounder, Mom

August 21, 2018

In my business I get asked all the time my thoughts on a nanny vs child care centers.  My answer is that there is no right answer.  Every family I work with is different and each has very specific needs and wants.  Here are some things to help you understand what might be best for your family.

In my business I get asked all the time my thoughts on a nanny vs child care centers.  My answer is that there is no right answer.  Every family I work with is different and each has very specific needs and wants.  Here are some things to help you understand what might be best for your family.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What is your ideal child care group like?
  • What do you most value?
  • What are your biggest concerns or fears?
  • What will our schedules really look like?
  • What is our budget for child care costs?

Child Care Centers:


  • Typically open 10-12 hours/day, five days/wk
  • Provides year-round care
  • Regulated by state and have state inspections at least once per year
  • Multiple caregivers make arrangement more dependable
  • Many times have more space, equipment, and toys
  • More formal, organized activities
  • Structured environment


  • Not as much individual attention
  • Higher turn-over rate for caregivers
  • Higher caregiver to child ratio than other forms of care – Texas requires a staff to infant ration of 2:10 maximum.  Most child experts recommend looking for centers that provide ratios of 1:4 or 1:3.


  • Waiting lists for infants can be over 1 year long, so ideally you would be researching and visiting child care centers as early as possible, even towards the end of your 1st trimester.  Preschools can also have extremely long wait lists, so start your searches early.


  • For Travis County, the average cost of infant care at a child care center was $814/month, with top centers in the $1200-$1600/month range.  This is as much as UT tuition!!!



  • Care in your own home
  • More control over routine, activities and kind of care child receives
  • Very individualized attention
  • May provide more flexibility.  Easier to find care for evenings & weekends than other options


  • Can be most expensive option (typically $15-$20/hr)
  • Texas does not regulate or license nannies.  You (or an agency) have to do all of the screening.
  • Will need back-up child care plan for caregiver vacation or sick days


  • Start looking for a nanny 6-8 weeks before you need them to start in your home.  This will give you time to screen applicants, call references, do in-person interviews, trial days and background checks.


  • Nannies in Austin typically charge $15-$20/hr.  For a 40hr work week, that is $2400–$3200/month.
  • Nanny taxes are also required to be paid to the IRS, and families are responsible for employer taxes.  Nannies are considered household employees NOT individual contractors.

I hope this helps!  If you need more personalized service, HappiYoungstr does offer one-on-one child care consultations to help families navigate the confusing world of child care and determine what solution is best for them.  See more at http://happiyoungstr.com/for-parents.asp


Playing the Waiting List Game


Playing The Waiting List Game

HappiFamli, Senior Waiting List Correspondent

March 20, 2018

Although the next school year for preschools doesn’t start until late August/early September, schools are pulling from waiting lists now.  We have some tips to help you play the wait list game.  

Many excellent child care centers and preschools have long waiting lists, so you need to plan for that in your timing of selecting the right school for your child.  You should be touring schools at least a year in advance of your anticipated start date if at all possible.  It also a good idea to have some “back-up plans” for other schools that would work well for your family.  Most schools also do have a fee to get on the wait-list, so you have to be smart with your money.  I recommend getting on about 3-4 waiting lists, where you would truly feel comfortable having your child attend that school.  That way, you have more than 1 option, but aren’t paying a ton of money at schools you probably don’t feel that great about.

Once your child is on a waiting list, there are some things you can do to help ensure the school knows you are interested:

1.  Make sure you understand who has priority on the wait list and how that affects your placement.  Most schools have sibling priority, where siblings of existing students are moved to the top of the wait list.  At other schools certain businesses that are close to the center may have priority (think IBM, Intel, etc), church members may have priority, etc. 

2.  Write a letter to the school explaining why the school is such a great fit for your child and what qualities put it at the top of your list. You want to make it clear that you hope your child will be admitted when a slot opens up.

3. Call the director and have a conversation about similar things that were in your letter. You may also, if applicable, discuss how you plan to contribute to the school.  Do NOT make frequent phone calls.  Call once a month at the MOST – but at least once a semester

4.  If you know someone with children who attend the preschool, you can ask them to make a call to the director on your behalf. They should stress how wonderful your child and family are and what a wonderful asset they would be to the school.  Again, specific details on why your child is a good fit and exactly what you could help the school with are always beneficial.

Good luck in your search!!